Monday, September 18, 2006

Ethiopian Firsts

I’m still counting the firsts here in Ethiopia: first ride in a mini-bus, first power outage, first week finished. And within my first week was my first weekend. What a good one! On Friday evening I had a restful night, trying to recuperate from a week full of firsts in a strange (but very friendly) landscape. So, I was well rested and up early on Saturday morning, ready for my first attempt at changing money (there are no such thing as lineups in Addis- you just push your way to the closest teller!) After an enjoyable morning exploring the city, I joined one of my coworkers for a drive up Entoto, a mountain overlooking the city. The view wasn’t great, as the weather was rainy and cloudy, but we plan to go up again after the rains stop. On the way down we stopped for “car-service coffee” – you park in front of a café, and the waitress brings the coffee and pastries to your car directly. It’s a great idea, but in practice it’s a bit messy and spilly!

In the evening I met up with a pile of other Canadian interns for dinner and drinks. Among them was Nic, who invited me to spend Sunday at a shelter for street children that his friend established with her NGO, Little Voice of Ethiopia. It was quite a trek to get there- three minibuses, a taxi, and a walk down a very slippery hill – but well worth it! There are six kids there at the moment, and the group is looking to fill the house up with 20 more little bodies. We stayed and played with the children, who are all between 6 and 13, for hours. They enjoyed dancing, memory, dominoes, and especially teaching me the Amharic names for animals and body parts!

This weekend was also the first time I started to see the reality caused by poverty here in Addis. In our drive up the mountain, we passed many women with giant bushels of eucalyptus branches (used for firewood) trudging down the steep incline. They were bent double with the load, and some were pregnant or only young girls themselves. You would never see an Ethiopian man doing the same task, and so I begin to see the gender divide here. At the shelter, amidst smiling and laughing young faces, I realized that these kids have all spent time on the streets and seen things I will never see. For example, one of the girls is there because at 12 she was sent to be married, but because of her desire to continue school and remain independent, she ran away from home.

With each of these firsts, I become more interested in Ethiopia, and happy that I am here with CPAR to work and learn.

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